THE STAGER by Susan Coll


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Coll (Beach Week, 2010, etc.) ratchets up the level of wit and mean edginess in her newest satire, which chronicles the absurd efforts put into marketing a high-end house outside Washington D.C.

Former Swedish tennis star Lars, an obese, pill-popping basket case since knee injuries stopped his career, is financially dependent on his wife, Bella, the highly visible executive in charge of “transparency” for a troubled multinational corporation. One of those seemingly unflappable, highly competent and enviably beautiful women whose life appears disgustingly charmed, Bella stays with Lars partly for the sake of their daughter, Elsa, and partly out of guilt over a decade-old infidelity that left Elsa’s paternity clouded. While Lars and Bella spend a few days in London, where the family is relocating for Bella’s career, Elsa remains at home with a nanny. After her pet rabbit, Dominique, runs away, Elsa—precocious but troubled and terribly lonely—bonds with Eve, a stager hired by the real estate agent to spruce up the property before its open house. Like Bella, Eve is a former journalist, but unlike Bella, Eve’s career and life paths have followed downward trajectories, and she approaches her work with a large dollop of bitterness, if not bile. By the time Elsa and her parents reunite, Lars is spiraling into a serious mental breakdown, unless he really is clairvoyant and able to speak to rabbits; Bella, who may be rekindling her old affair, is exposed as a full-blooded narcissist; Elsa is as unhappy and confused as ever; and Eve is at the breaking point. Thanks to bad drugs, bad smells and spilled red paint, marketing this house is a nightmare. Coll tells her story from the points of view of everyone involved, including Dominique. In fact, Dominique may be the sanest character in the book; after causing a lingering odor problem, the rabbit escapes early.

Although the nastiness becomes repetitive, Coll’s vicious depiction of upper-upper-middle-class suburbia is often excruciatingly funny.

Pub Date: July 8th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-374-26881-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2014


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